OVERVIEW AND SITE MAP
There are sharks in the literary waters. Deceptions abound, from fee-charging literary agents, to dishonest freelance editors, to fraudulent vanity publishers, to fake contests. Add to that the complications of copyright and the opportunism of the Internet, including the growing number of useless writers’ “services” and the hordes of well-intentioned but amateur agents and publishers, and you have a veritable minefield of literary pitfalls just waiting for the unwary writer, whether a beginner or a seasoned pro.
The good news: if you know the warning signs, it’s really very easy to protect yourself. At the Writer Beware website, you’ll find a full toolkit to help you: detailed discussions of questionable practice, information on how to identify it, advice on how to avoid it, and links to many useful online resources.
Here’s a summary (in alphabetical order) of what you’ll find on Writer Beware.
- About Writer Beware: Who are we? Why do we do what we do? How can you get in touch with us? Find out here.
- Alerts for Writers: Alerts about specific companies and issues of concern to writers.
- Case Studies: Here you’ll find an in-depth look at how a number of now-defunct literary scams actually operated.
- Contests and Awards: Some literary contests and awards are prestigious, but many aren’t. Worse, they may be money-making schemes, or fronts for fee-charging agencies or publishers. On this page you’ll find tips to help you assess a contest’s or an award’s legitimacy, as well as some thoughts on an important question: Is it worth it to enter?
- Copyright: Misconceptions and myths surround the complex subject of copyright, including the belief that you must register copyright in order to be fully protected (this isn’t true–your work is protected from the moment you write down the words). The Copyright page provides general information on copyright–including why it’s not necessary to register copyright for unpublished work–and punctures some common copyright myths.
- Independent Editors and Manuscript Assessment Services: While self-editing is a vital part of the writer’s craft, there are times when writers may want to consider hiring an independent editor or using a manuscript assessment service. There are many excellent editors and services; unfortunately, there are also many questionable ones, with dubious qualifications, inflated fees, and deceptive come-0ns.This page lists the warning signs of disreputable editors and assessment services, and provides tips on how to choose qualified ones. There’s also a discussion of the limitations of editing–and why you should think long and hard before choosing this often very expensive option.
- Legal Recourse and Other Remedies: This section provides advice on taking legal action if you believe you’ve been defrauded, along with resources for doing so. It also suggests a variety of avenues for filing complaints about dishonest or fraudulent practice.
- Literary Agents: A good literary agent can be a tremendous boon to a writer’s career. But there are also many disreputable agents who prey on writers by charging fees, promoting their own paid editing services, engaging in kickback referral schemes, and misrepresenting their knowledge and expertise. Equally dangerous are the many amateur and incompetent agents, who lack the skills and knowledge required to successfully market manuscripts to publishers.The Literary Agents page discusses questionable agenting practices, offers tips on how to identify and avoid fraudulent and amateur agents, and provides links to help you research agents’ reputations.
- Print on Demand and Electronic Self-Publishing: Print-on-demand publishing services and electronic self-publishing options have made it possible for anyone to publish a book, at a cost considerably lower than the old-style vanity publishers or book manufacturers. New technology aside, however, the challenges for self-publishers remain the same–achieving visibility, making sales, getting respect–and while the traditional stigma that attaches to self-publishing is fading, it can still be a problem. The POD and Electronic Self-Publishing page takes an in-depth look at these issues, and provides tips and links to help you find and evaluate appropriate options.
- Recommended Reading: Books to help you learn more about the psychology of literary scams, and how to protect yourself against them.
- Small Presses: The transition to digital technology–both print-on-demand for print, and the various ebook platforms–has spurred an explosion of small presses over the past decade. Often serving niche markets that larger publishers aren’t interested in, small presses can be a terrific option for authors–but by the same token, the ease and cheapness of setting up a publishing operation these days means that anyone can do it. Amateur small presses abound, run by people with little or no experience in acquiring, editing, producing, or marketing books…and then there are the scams. The Small Presses page discusses these problems and the dangers they pose to writers, along with the warning signs of amateur or disreputable publishers, advice on how to judge a publisher’s professionalism, and links to helpful resources.
- Vanity Anthologies: Vanity anthology companies charge contributors a fee, or pressure them to buy multiple copies of the anthology. The best-known vanity anthologies are those that entice writers with free contests, and then declare most or all of the entrants winners or finalists. The Vanity Anthologies page exposes how these deceptive schemes work.
- Vanity and Subsidy Publishers: Some vanity publishers are honest and straightforward. Many aren’t, concealing their fees, breaking contract terms, and otherwise defrauding writers. Either way, vanity publishing is a bad idea–and not just because it’s far more expensive than it needs to be. On this page, you’ll learn why, as well as the warning signs of a dishonest vanity publisher and the many sneaky ways in which vanity publishers attempt to dodge the vanity label.
- Writers’ Services: The past few years have seen an extraordinary increase in the number of people writing and trying to publish books. In addition to fueling an astounding proliferation of scams and schemes, this has also spawned a variety of writers’ services. Some of these services are frauds; a few are genuinely intended to help. Many are just a waste of money. This page discusses common writers’ services and their usefulness (or lack of it).
- Crimes of Persuasion provides an overview of a wide variety of schemes, scams, and frauds, including literary frauds. The “Victims” section offers interesting demographics on fraud victims and the psychological effects of fraud, and there’s an especially useful “Laws” section that includes links to agencies to which various kinds of fraud can be reported.
- Excuse Me, How Much Did It Cost You? Tips on how to avoid getting taken, from author and former SFWA Vice-President A.C. Crispin.
- How to Sniff Out Literary Scams: tips from writer Marcia Yudkin.
- Writer Beware: my own article on how writers can recognize the warning signs of literary scams.
- Writer Beware: Spotting the Publishing Scam, an article by lawyer Ellen M. Kozak.
- Editor Teresa Nielsen Hayden has some interesting observations on the linguistics of literary scammery: A Brief Note on Linguistic Markers and More Linguistic Markers.
- Sharks in the Water: Old Publishing Scams for the New Millenium, an article by author Alicia Rasley, profiles a number of common literary scams.
- Prof. Jim Fisher, of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, is an expert on literary fraud who has written a book about one of the more notorious scams, the Deering Literary Agency. There’s more information at his website.